For many of our students, Halloween is one of the most exciting times of the year. A time where children get to choose a character they’ve looked up to, dream about all of the candy they will collect, and engage in many of the fall-themed activities. Unfortunately many of these same Halloween and fall activities can be triggers for our students that experience sensitivity issues, food allergies, anxiety, physical disabilities, social emotional deficits, and language issues. Although these are unique challenges, these should not be total barriers for our students to enjoy one of the most exciting times of the year. If you are handing out candy on Halloween night, below are some ideas to help navigate these hurdles:
Food sensitivity: Have a variety of candy that does not include milk or nuts for those who have allergies. Keep in mind that some children with motor difficulties may have trouble with chewing and swallowing, so having non-food options, such as stickers, pencils, etc., are also a great choice.
Anxiety and sensory issues: Many children may become overly anxious or overloaded due to common Halloween decorations, such as strobe lights, fog machines, loud noises, or even masks. Although those are fun decorations, it might be best to keep them for adult parties with people you know. Keep your front deck well-lit and avoid scaring trick-or-treaters to minimize anxiety with small children.
Language and social emotional deficits: Although we don’t think of the language required during trick-or-treating, the process is actually quite demanding on receptive and expressive language skills. Keeping this in mind on Halloween night will help students enjoy trick-or-treating. Don’t pressure children to respond with lengthy verbal utterances and don’t be alarmed if a child does not ring your doorbell and respond with “Trick or treat!” Social interaction might also be a challenge, so display patience and kindness if these children find themselves on your doorstep.
Physical disabilities: If your deck and front door are elevated, it might be a good idea to sit at the foot of your stairs so that children who have physical disabilities are more able to easily access your candy stash.
As educators, one thing we can do to help aid during this time of year is to practice these social and language interactions well in advance so that when the night comes, they are more prepared. Social scripts and role-playing can be successful to help build these kids up for success and less stress. For some reason, people with disabilities are an afterthought in our society. But with everyone playing a part, we can help reverse this common practice and continue to strive for inclusion.
Author: Griffin Parrott M.Ed, CCC-SLP